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NORMAN COHN

Cohn is a Fellow of the British Academy and Professor Emeritus at Sussex University.

(more about Cohn)

The roots of the Antichrist idea go back to the Bible. In fact, in a sense they go back to the Old Testament and the Book of Daniel. And they're reinforced by certain passages in St. Paul, in the New Testament, and greatly elaborated down the centuries, including quite early in the Middle Ages. The idea was that Antichrist could be a human being, could be a man who would incorporate everything that was opposed to the true Christ. And he would deceive the world. He would be apparently very good, and would establish a reign which seemed to be just and prosperous and so on. But this would all be false pretense. It would all be a way of seducing mankind from the true Christ. And then the true Christ would appear and annihilate him. And then that would be the Second Coming. ...

ADSO'S LETTER




Bernard McGinn

McGinn is a professor of Historical Theology and the History of Christianity at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago.

(more about McGinn)

The key figure to what [I] could call the coalescence of the Antichrist legend is a monk of the 10th century named Adso, a French monk. And he writes a famous letter on the Antichrist to the Queen of France, in which he summarizes all the ancient traditions from the West about Antichrist. But he does so in a very interesting form. He uses the form of a saint's life, a saint's life in reverse. And I think we have to remember that saints' lives were the movies of the 10th century. It was the most popular form of literature. ... It was the form that Adso used which made his famous letter on the Antichrist such a important document in the history of apocalypticism. Hundreds of manuscripts of this survive, translations into vernaculars, etc., etc.

The Antichrist is not mentioned in the Book of Revelation. How at this time does an idea about the Antichrist begin to form?

The term "Antichrist" doesn't occur in the Apocalypse. It only occurs in the epistles ascribed to John in the New Testament. But nevertheless, the image ofx the beast, particularly in the 13th chapter and later in the 17th chapter, was always interpreted as a symbol of Antichrist in Christian tradition. Antichrist traditions then are very powerful throughout the history of Christianity. What made Adso in the 10th century so important is that you have an easy, comprehensible picture of Antichrist, his whole life from birth to death, presented to a general audience, and if you will, therefore solidified for popular appeal.

ANTICHRIST AND ANTISEMITISM




PAUL BOYER

Boyer is the Merle Curti Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

(more about Boyer)

antichrist

signorelli's depiction of the antichrist as jesus' demonic twin
There's been a very profound link between Antichrist belief and anti-semitism historically. The origin of this, I think, is that the assumption was that the Antichrist would be a demonic twin of Jesus, and the fact that Jesus was Jewish gave rise to the conclusion that therefore the Antichrist will be a Jew. And in medieval Europe we see close connections between apocalyptic belief and belief in the Jews as demonic and sinister. So for example, when the Crusades were getting underway and Christians were going off to Jerusalem to redeem the city of Jerusalem from the heretics, at the same time we see horrible, horrendous anti-semitic persecutions breaking out in some of the cities of Germany, for example. There's a close connection in people's minds between the sinister Jew and the Antichrist. And that theme continues really in prophetic popularizations right down to the present. ...

HILDEGARD AND ANTICHRIST

Hildegard of Bingen is one of the most interesting figures in the whole history of apocalypticism. A German abbess, obscure, but very brilliant, a very talented, multi-talented woman, and a deep believer in Bible prophecy. And she presented her vision, her understanding of the prophecies, in different media. She wrote music. She created paintings in which she tried to capture the visions she had had of the reign of the Antichrist and the Last Judgment. And these really penetrated into European culture, in her own day and afterward. ...


Bernard McGinn

Hildegard of Bingen is very significant because it reminds us that the history of apocalyptic expectations is not just a male phenomenon in the history of Christianity ... and her unique view of the theology of history and of the end times, the picture that she has of the Antichrist, for example, as part of this play or scenario, is one of the most inventive of the entire medieval period.

hildegard's birth of the antichrist

hildegard's birth of the antichrist
Well, Hildegard of course gives us several pictures of the end times. But the one that was most .. powerful, I think, is the picture in her book Scivias, the visionary book that she wrote in the 1140s. And this is a series of visions, many of the connected with the heavenly world, but others dealing with the course of history. One of these famous images is the picture of the kingdoms of the end time and the birth of Antichrist from the Church. This is a powerful image of a vast female figure representing the Church, with this horrible monstrous head being born from the woman. And that of course is the image of the Antichrist, who will be born from the Church, who will persecute believing Christians, and who will try to pretend that he is divine by ascending into heaven. And so in the image you have this monstrous head on the top of a mountain, and then being cast down and destroyed by divine power from above.

What is Scivias?

This was Hildegard's first great visionary work. And the term "scivias" means "know the ways of the Lord." And Hildegard tells us that when she was 42 years of age, she began to receive these visions and write them down, and then explain them. Then the book was put together along with illustrations of the visions that she had seen within her mind. And the Scivias can be described as a kind of universal theology, talking about God's creation of the world and the course of sacred history down to the end times. And it's within that framework of a cosmology and history and eschatology that she presents her unique picture of the Antichrist. ...

What role does Hildegard ascribe to Jews in her version of Antichrist?

Hildegard, like many others, pondered the role of the Jews in the end times. And often basing themselves upon Paul's prediction of the Jews returning to Christ in the Book of Romans, many later commentators saw the Jews as coming into the Christian fold at the end times. And I think that we have to put Hildegard within the context of continuing Christian speculation about the role of the Jews at the end period.

Does she associate the Jews particularly with the Antichrist?

No. For Hildegard, Antichrist is born from the Church. That's very crucial. Because there are two traditions really in Christianity, at war with each other for many, many centuries. One is that Antichrist will be born a Jew. The other one is that no, he won't be a Jew; he will be born out of the Church. He may convert the Jews briefly to himself, but many also believed that the Jews then, even the ones who were converted to Antichrist, would repent before the doomsday.

Is there a mirror image she sets up about the birth of Antichrist and the birth of Christ?

I think that Hildegard taps into the very ancient tradition of what I would call Antichristology. Just as in early Christianity the theological speculation about who is Christ, what has he done, what are his powers, how does he redeem, just as that developed in a very powerful way, as its opposite side, we have the development of an Antichristology that adds onto the scriptural data a whole history of the Antichrist and his powers and his persecuting times. Hildegard continues that tradition in very powerful ways, particularly of course by emphasizing how Antichrist will create a parody of the great events of the end of Christ's life, that is, his death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, and giving of the holy spirit. For Hildegard, Antichrist will pretend to die ... and then, in a culminating moment, when he tries to ascend into heaven and parody Christ's ascension, he'll be cast down and destroyed. ...

More on the Antichrist.

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